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Wyden Lobbies for C.O. Drone Testing Site

By Joe Burns
Published On: May 01 2012 05:51:30 AM CDT
Updated On: May 01 2012 06:58:04 AM CDT
BEND, Ore. -

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., visited the Bend Municipal Airport Tuesday, in part to see a runway paving project. It's just part of a wide-ranging FAA funding bill the senator helped get passed.

But another part of the bill has the senator particularly interested.

The bill also creates six unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone testing areas nationwide, and Central Oregon is still in the hunt for one.

The runway project costs $3.6 million.

The project, according to Wyden, is helping create a first-class facility that can attract other kinds of opportunities - and industries - like drones.

The Bend Airport is in need of some fixing up; the taxiway is cracked.

But thanks to the Federal Aviation Administration funding bill, it's getting what it needs done.

"It's going to continue to improve the facility, so that we can get more employers out here -- that's really what we are looking for," said Bend City Councilor Mark Capell.

The bill allows small airports to become eligible for $50 million over the next four years.

"Here at home, this means safer airports, better runways, better terminals, better hangars, and better taxiways like one we are seeing re-paved this morning," Wyden said, speaking before airport and city officials.

"These workers are putting together a first-class facility like this airport, that can be a magnet for a lot of other kinds of opportunities," Wyden said.

Opportunities, Wyden says, that include a growing industry - test sites for drone aircraft.

"We know Central Oregon would be an ideal place for that kind of operation," Wyden said.

The bill requires the FAA to establish six test areas nationwide.

The test areas are needed for companies that build the unmanned aircraft that for years were known only for dropping bombs in war zones.

Today, fire departments use drones to help fight wildfires, and police agencies nationwide use them to get an eye from above.

"The Internet was a classic military development project, and now we all use it every day, and we love it and can't live without it," said Matt Smith, who designs and operates parts for drone aircraft for Hatch Development. "I think that drones are similar."

"We have a couple manufacturers that are making a lot of these parts for these aircraft," Smith said."I think that those aircraft (businesses) could grow if we saw some new companies move in."

Wyden said there is no guarantee Central Oregon will be chosen for the site of a test area, but he's pushing hard for it.

"You cannot put together an Oregon or a Northwest proposal that doesn't use Central Oregon as a primary test area," Wyden said. "This is the place that's led the effort, and led the effort for some time."

Smith says it could be the Mt. Bachelor to the aircraft industry here in Central Oregon.

"Where Mt. Bachelor attracts tourists every year," he said, "This airspace will attract high-tech industry that gives well-paying jobs."

But not everyone supports the plan to bring the testing site here.

Some pilots say airspace is limited, and environmental critics oppose the sound pollution they say would come with the increased air traffic.

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